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Region 7 director Steve Watt and Region 5 director Sarah Stirling.

Ten questions with Steve Watt and Sarah Stirling

Police News chats to the association's two newest directors - Steve Watt and Sarah Stirling.

Sergeant Steve Watt, a youth and community services supervisor based in Queenstown

1. Congratulations on being elected as the Region 7 director. How do you want to represent members in this role?

Our committees are the strength of the association and the go-to place for our members. We are very lucky to have three strong committees in Region 7 and I want to build on that through visibility and communication from the board to our committees and vice-versa.

2. Are you a true Southern Man, or do you hail from elsewhere?

I’m a true Southern Man, although I have to admit I have never liked Speight’s, so some Southerners may disagree. I was born and raised in the back blocks of Oamaru, a great place to live with a lot to offer families. I try to get back there as often as I can to catch up with family and just roam around the farm.

3. When did you join Police and why?

I joined in 2000 after doing a BA at Otago Uni. At the same time as applying for Police, I applied for an estate agent job, which I also got, so I had to choose, and I went for the Police. It’s a bit cliche, but I had always wanted to drive fast and lock up baddies. I have no regrets, but looking at the housing market I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had taken that real estate job.

4. What makes policing in a tourist mecca such as Queenstown different from other towns and how has Covid-19 changed the place?

When I first came to Queenstown, every night was a Friday night. It was a vibrant and exciting place and you got to meet people from all over the world. We were policing tourists 90 per cent of the time, which brings lots of disorder and assaults. Covid has had a profound impact and Queenstown certainly isn’t as vibrant as it used to be. However, prices have dropped, which has meant a lot more Kiwis coming here, which is great to see.

5. How do you think Police’s recently launched Tactical Response Model might benefit provincial policing?

The extra training, technology and intelligence on offer will go a long way to keeping our staff safer and I certainly welcome the introduction of the Tactical Prevention Teams. In provincial areas, staff are still concerned about the risks they face on a daily basis, and they worry that the teams won’t be readily accessible to them. Given the vast geographical separation between stations in our district, that is a valid concern. I know there has been a lot of feedback from staff on this and I look forward to seeing Police develop the model to better serve those in the provincial areas.

6. What surprises you most about the young people you meet as part of your youth work?

How smart and intelligent they are. We often dismiss the young as naive or immature, but they have so much to offer and are motivated and forward thinking. We can learn a lot from our young people, if we just lend them an ear from time to time.

7. Tell us about your family and life outside work?

My wife, Lisa, is a detective with Police, and I have two boys, Fletcher, 9, and Spencer, 7. Living in Queenstown, we love to get up the mountain in the winter to go skiing and get out boating on the lake in the summer.

8. What are your hopes for 2022?

To be able to travel overseas without having to quarantine or worry about getting Covid. We were due to take the kids to the Gold Coast when Covid first struck and I’ve been getting it in the ear from the kids ever since.

9. If you weren’t a police officer, what would you like to do as a career?

Is retirement a career? After 21 years, I can’t imagine not being a police officer, but if I had to choose, maybe I could go back and look at the real estate option…

10. What is the most adventurous activity you’ve ever taken part in?

I’m not one to jump out of perfectly good planes or off bridges, but being in Queenstown I had to give bungy jumping a go. With a gentle push from behind, I managed to jump and was very happy the rubber band held around my ankles.

Sergeant Sarah Stirling during a protest at Parliament in the 1980s.

Sergeant Sarah Stirling, a teaching and learning adviser at the Police College, is the Police Association’s new Region 5 director, covering Wellington District, PNHQ and the college

1. Congratulations on becoming the director for Region 5. It’s a diverse region, from recruits to staff at the highest levels of Police. What challenges does that pose for a union representative?

My challenge will be building and maintaining healthy relationships with senior members of the various leadership teams, getting them to recognise that the association is here to help by identifying and resolving issues early before they grow.

2. When and why did you join Police?

I joined in 1982, in the 82nd recruit wing, which, unusually for the time, had 12 women and 11 men. I had a strong desire to help others and make a difference to people’s lives.

3. What are the differences between today’s recruits and when you joined?

There is a lot more diversity (women, ethnicities, size) and more emphasis on having a university education.

4. What are the key attributes to being a successful police officer?

Common sense, the ability to communicate with people from all walks of life, empathy, integrity, pride in yourself and your work, and resilience. It’s also important to have interests outside the job and to stay in touch with family and friends.

5. You’ve been involved in the association’s Diversity Governance Group (DGG). What are your hopes for the future in that area?

ASince I began coming to our annual conferences, I’ve already seen a surge in the number of women attending and taking on leadership roles in committees. I would like the DGG to work alongside directors and committees to mentor women interested in leadership roles.

6. What ideas would you like to see the association promote?

A recruitment-style initiative to get younger members interested in committees. Diversity of age is important to stay up to date with the views of all our members.

7. Where did you grow up and what was your favourite part of childhood?

I was born in Wellington, but when I was three, my family – parents and four kids – went to live in the Cook Islands for what turned out to be 7½ years. My father had a job with the government there. It was an idyllic childhood, immersed in the beautiful culture and customs of the Cook Islands. There was no TV, milk was powdered, there were daily electricity cuts and a Hercules plane delivered essential supplies once a week, with boats for everything else.

8. Tell us about your family and what you like to do when you’re not at work?

I have a 21-year-old son who is studying at Victoria University. I coach basketball at my old high school (Onslow College). My other passion is keeping fit. I played rep basketball for several years along with lots of other sports. It’s my way of relaxing… I do high-intensity interval training sessions several times a week and walking and swimming on alternate days. I also love meeting friends and family for coffee, brunch and dinner.

9. What’s the secret to your longevity in Police?

I’ve never lost sight of why I joined – to help people, which I’ve done by trying different roles, using my knowledge and experience and passing that on to others. I’ve also never lost sight of the importance of frontline teams. I’m still in close contact with them to keep up to date with what’s happening “on the street”, and whenever there is any chance to go “on duty”, I seize it.

10. Didn’t you get told off in the 1980s for not wearing the regulation daytime hat for female officers?

Throughout my career I have pushed back on unfairness and bias, including around uniforms. When I joined, women were expected to wear a skirt, which I didn’t want to do as it prevented me from doing the job, so I asked for and was reluctantly allowed to get some trousers made. When I joined the Wellington Team Policing in 1984, some really great guys helped kit me out with what they wore, including boots (females were supposed to wear navy blue shoes) and a beat helmet. At a protest at Parliament, I was photographed arresting a demonstrator. The picture made the news and there was a “please explain” from the district leadership about my headwear. Fortunately, my supervisor backed me 100 per cent and I was “allowed” to continue wearing the helmet.

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